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Laurent Désiré Kabila [LDK]

Laurent Désiré Kabila was keen to guard his privacy and evasive about his past. Having played a prominent part in the birth of his nation, which gained independence from Belgium in 1960, he seemed to drift away, if not into sleep, then certainly into obscurity.

Years of dictatorship under the US-backed regime of Mobutu Sese Seko were ended by Rwandan and Ugandan-backed rebels who marched across the country in seven months in 1997 and installed Laurent Kabila as the third president in May 1997. The US clearly hoped he would become one of the “new African leaders”, like Museveni and Kagame, who were being lauded by President Clinton. They believed that Kabila, the Pan-Africanist turned free-marketeer, would bring stability to this huge country, and provide access to its considerable mineral wealth.

Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda sponsored the war hoping to have a friendly government in Kinshasa capable of securing their borders with the DRC. The Rwanda government even posted military advisors with Kabila and several of his ministers were reporting directly to Kigali. Uganda’s President Mu Seveni dreamed of a direct route between Kampala and Kisangani that would open the DRC to Ugandan traders.

Laurent Kabila was born into the Luba ethnic group in the mineral-rich province of Katanga in 1939. Little is known about his childhood. He attended university and studied in Tanzania and France, returning home to support to support the leftist, Patrice Lumumba, who became first prime minister of the Congo.

In the 1960s, Kabila led a guerrilla struggle against the Mobutu regime. In 1964, three months after an uprising started in the west, the young Kabila helped launch the "Simba" rebellion in the east. Simbas ["lion" in Swahili language] were quite inhuman. They‘d go into a town and seek out everybody who could read and write. These were the intellectuals. The Simbas would take them all out to a field and gun them down. Kabila's group controlled a tiny region in the South Kivu region of the Congo, where it was sustained by gold mining and ivory trading, and where the group is said to have brutalised the local population.

One of his claims to fame was a meeting in 1965 with Che Guevara, although Guevara apparently considered him a liability — who spent more time in bars and brothels than in politics. Guevara was appalled by the rebels' disorganisation and the perpetual absence of their leaders. He was also alarmed by the endemic levels of venereal disease among the guerrillas.

In the 1980s Kabila moved to Dar es Salaam, selling gold mined in the Congo. Here in 1996, he was contacted by fellow Pan-Africanist Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania. Kabila was taken up by his former Pan-African associates President Museveni of Uganda and the then Vice-President of Rwanda Paul Kagame. Like them, Kabila had abandoned any pretence of Marxism and was a committed supporter of the profit system.

The Rwandan and Ugandan Governments decided to remove the President of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, and to replace the Mobutu regime with one that would protect the Tutsi minorities inside Zaire. To prosecute the war, the leaders of Rwanda and Uganda chose Laurent Kabila, the leader of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL). Kabila was picked by then Rwandan Vice President Kagame and Ugandan President Museveni to lead the rebellion. The AFDL was primarily composed of ethnic Tutsi militia members and military officers from Zaire. The force was heavily supported by Rwandan and Ugandan militaries. On 29 May 1997, the AFDL captured Kinshasa. President Mobutu had fled the country two weeks earlier. Laurent Kabila and the AFDL seized the government and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But by 1998, divisions emerged. The Ugandans and Rwandans fell out with Kabila, backed separate rebel groups, and a war marked by plunder and massacres began.

Congolese hoped that a revival would be seen in the DRC after more than thirty years of Mobutu’s mismanagement and autocratic rule. All these hopes were, however, dashed by Kabila’s incompetence, mismanagement, and his support of ex-Forces Armees Rwandaises (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe militiamen who committed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Furthermore, Kabila was seen by Congolese as a Rwandan puppet when he repudiated the proceedings of the National Conference.

On 16 January 2001, Laurent Kabila President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was shot dead. According to reports Kabila was shot by one of his bodyguards in front of army generals, following a dispute in which he had sacked them. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel confirmed the involvement of army chiefs and claimed that the killing was not a coup attempt, but “an argument that descended into violence”. There were reports of heavy fighting around the presidential palace for half an hour, after which calm descended in the capital Kinshasa. It appeared that presidential chief of staff Colonel Eddy Kapend had taken temporary control of the country.

Kabila was hit by two bullets, one of which was eventually fatal. The bullet entered the skull near the ear went down through Kabila's body and came out near the arm on the opposite side. The assailant was killed. It was clear within hours after he had been shot that Laurent Kabila was not going to survive. In a dignified, well organized six-hour ceremony, President Laurent Kabila was buried 23 January 2001 in the presence of six Sfrican presidents, and nearly a dozen other high-level foreign delegations almost all of whom departed Kinshasa before nightfall.

The long-awaited trial of the 116 suspects in the assassination of the late President Laurent Desire Kabila began on the morning of 02 April 2002. On March 20, the general prosecutor publicly read the charges (in the presence of the defendants, their lawyers, and the public) at Makala prison. Several high profile defendants (Eddy Kapend, General Yav, Rashidi's widow, the Masasu group) generated the most interest. Of particular interest to the US, former ANR chief Leta Mangasa was charged with being in secret contact with the CIA station chief in Kinshasa between July 2000 and January 16, 2001, in order to "favor undertakings of the (U.S.), notably support to rebel forces against the DRC."

On 07 December 2003, judges for the highest DRC military court handed down their verdict in trial of persons accused in connection with the assassination of former President Laurent Kabila. Of the 130 persons on trial: 30 were given the death penalty (six of whom fled the country in 2000 and were sentenced in absentia), 29 were given life imprisonment, 45 were acquitted, 24 received prison sentences between 6 months and 20 years, one was acquitted of treason but will be recharged with theft (in civilian courts), and the cause of death of assassin Rachidi Mizele -- who was in turn killed on the spot by Eddy Kapend - was ruled "extinction by public action."

In the verdict, there was no mention of the United Dtates or any other western country as being complicit in the assassination, an issue of some concern at the start of the trial.

As many as 14 prisoners sentenced in the 2001 assassination of former Congolese President Laurent Kabila escaped from a Kinshasa jail in October 2009. One jail official said there were no signs of a breakout, and authorities were investigating how the inmates escaped. The prisoners were among at least 30 people convicted in the assassination.

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Page last modified: 01-06-2015 18:29:27 ZULU